Qari Asim: Dialogue between faiths is essential

NATIONAL Inter Faith Week is a focal point. This week's efforts are not about joint worship but serving the community, working together for peace, tackling religiously-motivated violence and being in service of humanity.

Chief imam Qari Asim who has written in support of National Inter Faith Week.

Some people argue that such work is a ‘waste of time’ but to truly understand our divided globalised world, we need to understand the role of religion within it. Religions will be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideologies were to the 20th century. The beliefs and priorities which religious people hold must be heard and recognised.

A faith-based view of the world is not a medieval hangover or an incomprehensible expression of a dream for a golden age of the past, but is, in fact, a way of looking at the world with collective compassion. Although in the West, some institutionalised religions may be on the decline, the Pew Research Center data shows that religion in parts of the developing world is gaining more traction, with especially sharp gains for both Christians and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Dialogue between faiths is essential to survival of religions generally and necessary for the sake of peace in the world. Inter-faith dialogue has definitely matured in this country in the last few decades.

Nisa-Nashim is an example of such initiative whereby Jewish and Muslim women meet to discuss challenges that they face as being women of religious minorities. In solidarity with the season of Lent, some young Muslims have taken part in the #Muslims4Lent campaign this year, and some Christians have also observed fast during Ramadan.

These activities are not restricted to conversations or visiting each other’s places of worship, they are underpinned by positive social action. My mosque in Leeds and our local Sinai Synagogue have done joint initiatives as part of Sadaqa Day and Mitzavah Day campaigns, including making cards for vulnerable children, collecting and packing food parcels for the city’s poor and needy, as well as for refugees. The Prophet Muhammad says: “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.” It is part of my faith to be in service of others.

There is no doubt that more needs to be done, but many initiatives are already under way and need our support. Inside the kitchen of All Hallows Church in Leeds, Muslim and Christian volunteers work side by side every week to prepare food for Syrian and other refugees. The café receives halal chicken from the Nando’s restaurant chain, spices from Leeds University students, and groceries, vegetables and other items from local supermarkets. It is truly a community café, inspired by the faiths of the volunteers.

These relations offer rich experiences to those involved. Inter-faith relations are no longer about teas and samosas but rather stepping into the shoes of others to experience different faiths, and understand how they live out their beliefs. This summer, Christians, Jews and Muslims in Leeds staged a symbolic Standing Together event when they talked about each other’s pain and suffering. The purpose was to dispel misunderstanding, to develop mutual friendships and to stand together against religiously-motivated violence.

Standing together against violence, whether religiously-motivated or otherwise, is one of the greatest needs of our time to defeat terrorism. Last weekend I went to Paris with a delegation of civic and faith leaders to meet communities of various faiths. The visit was designed to remember and honour those who lost their lives in Paris attacks a year ago.

When we visited the Bataclan theatre, grief, disbelief and horror were the emotions that enclosed us all. This was an incredibly powerful and visible display of solidarity that was shared by both Muslims and Christians. The 89 lives that had been violently snatched away by poisonous hatred were very much in our thoughts while we stood in silence.

All faiths teach the principle of “love thy neighbour” and minister even to those with whom we disagree. Given the rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, it is more important than ever that faith communities come together to encounter prejudice and hatred.

This week, as we pay tribute to soldiers of all faiths and none who stood side-by-side to face down the hatred of Nazism, we remember our shared history and values. National Inter Faith Week helps us to focus on core values of our faiths and celebrate the positive contribution that many of the inter-faith initiatives are making in our neighbourhoods.

• Qari Asim MBE is an imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds. He tweets via @QariAsim